Monday, June 28, 2010

Amazing Stockton Street

On both an economic and cultural level, Stockton Street in San Francisco Chinatown, particularly between Jackson St. and Broadway is absolutely incredible. Due to the plethora of grocery stores here, if you lived anywhere in the vicinity you would have no need for a refrigerator, except perhaps to store leftovers. A dozen or more of these storefronts line both the east and west side of the street. Dry packaged goods take up a relatively small portion of the floor space of these stores, which allocate the lion's share of their premises to fresh produce, meat, and seafood. The volume of fresh food handled by these stores is mind-boggling. In each store you're likely to see probably six to ten butchers busily serving their customers. Meanwhile, a like number of produce ladies are continually taking fruits and vegetables out of their boxes and putting them on display. Think about it--each one of these tiny stores probably has a crew of produce, meat and seafood workers well in excess of what you see at your local Ralphs or Albertsons. These stores are packed with shoppers, all day long, from 7 am to 6 pm, and there's always a line to pay at the cashiers, who are stationed side by side against the wall.  And when fresh cartons are poured into the bins, stay out of the way, particularly from the little old Chinese ladies, who have no qualms about pushing or shoving their way to get the best new merchandise, or to get into line to pay.  (For proof, check out this television story about a fight over eggs on Stockton Street.)

And not only are Chinatown shoppers blessed with the convenience of fresh food, the prices at these stores are incredibly low. Why pay $4 a pound for cherries at Whole Foods when they're 69 cents a pound on Stockton Street. Yes, the Whole Foods cherries might be a little bit bigger, and you won't find any with double pits. But hey, for an 80 percent price discount, who cares? That's why every time we visit San Francisco, we come back with every day produce items purchased at the lowest price imaginable.

So how are the prices on Stockton Street so low?  Well with regards to the produce, it appears the trick is eliminating the middlemen.  San Francisco Chinatown is close enough to the agricultural fields of the San Joaquin Valley that many growers pack their trucks early in the morning and head straight to the grocery stores on Stockton Street in time for the 7am to 8am opening of those stores, bypassing the wholesale produce markets.  In addition there is very little spoilage because many of the Stockton Street stores discount that day's unsold produce at the end of the day, and if there's anything left, discount them more the next morning.   Plus with the volume and turnover, Stockton Street grocers can operate on a very thin margin and still do well.

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